Every parent knows you can shout at the top of your voice until you’re blue in the face, but you can’t always make children listen. Especially if what you are shouting about is something that is potentially dangerous, but their peers more commonly believe is “cool”.
It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, it doesn’t matter if you have their best interests at heart, it doesn’t matter that you might have lived through the very same thing that they are and are trying to help them not make your mistakes. After kids hit a certain age, adults become the enemy.
So how do you get an important message through to adolescents? By using one of the most powerful communication tools known to man: storytelling.
Neil Gaiman, wildly successful author and graphic novelist, tells us that stories “teach us how the world is put together and the rules of living in the world, and they come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and want to help them propagate.”
Invention born of necessity
It is given that youths of today will experiment with many things as they grow older, regardless of the environment and socio-economic conditions they grew up in.
Unfortunately, this means that the vast majority of young people all across the world will come across the chance to sample substances: nicotine, alcohol, or even illegal drugs.
Smashed, which was launched in the Philippines through a collaboration between Diageo Philippines and PETA Plus in partnership with UK-based company Collingwood Learning. It is a groundbreaking global program that is a pillar of Diageo’s Society 2030: Spirit of Progress commitment to tackle underage drinking.
Chris Simes, the Managing Director for Collingwood Learning, recognizes that in order to nip the problem in the bud, one has to take a completely different approach other than lecturing the youth. “This is a real change from the usual approach to alcohol education in schools and one that makes the risks of underage drinking impossible to forget. We understand that because of the pandemic, both teachers and students are still adjusting to the current normal. But we want to help carry the learning forward by providing high-quality teaching resources for use, despite the pandemic. We’re thrilled to be working with PETA Plus and the Department of Education in the Philippines to produce new innovative online learning solutions to supplement the highly successful live approach.”
Inevitably, kids who start drinking at an early age do not have minds and bodies that are able to process alcoholic beverages. They get lured into it by seeing it as a rite of passage, a means of escape, or a social requirement.
On its second run, Smashed utilizes a novel approach, with additional features designed for more interaction with its target audience.
Conceptualized during the time when education was adapting to the new constraints of being unable to hold physical classes, the Smashed Philippine project initially launched in September 2021. It was an interactive website (online.smashedproject.org) that sought to empower Filipino teens and preteens to make better choices by harnessing their critical thinking skills.
Smashed utilized an online platform featuring a gripping story with three main characters and even has a feature that makes the viewer feel like they are actually on video calls with the characters as they follow along.
What’s the problem?
It’s easy to ignore a problem you don’t see. Teens learn how to drink from adults. They think it’s okay because they see it everyday, and sometimes, they are even encouraged to drink, especially males. Adults will sometimes allow their children to drink inside their homes with their friends because it is ‘safer’, saying, “mas okay nang dito ka mag-inom sa bahay kesa sa labas”.
But the Philippines does have an underage drinking culture. If you’re ever in doubt about this fact, just ask the kids.
Ashley Mae Torres, a tenth-grade student from Quirino High School, points out, “Bilang kabataan, mas marami akong nakikitang proud maging alcoholic.” That’s a worrying statement indeed, but she also credits Smashed, seeing the potential good in the program. “Salamat at dahil sa Smashed mas lumawak ang aking kaalaman sa mga panganib ng alcohol,” says Ashley. “Mas magandang piliin ang tama kasya sa udyok ng ibang tao.”
The Philippines, which has a thriving drinking culture, reports that 70% of the population has consumed alcohol before the age of 14, despite it being illegal for stores and restaurants to sell or serve the substance to minors. This could be a problem.
Sometimes the adults in the lives of young drinkers are the problem. In a scathing insight, the winner of the Smashed essay writing contest notes, “Ang problem po sa underage drinking sa bansa natin ay ine-encourage pa ng ibang family na ‘uy uminom ka’. Diyan din ako nagsimula ayaw ko pang uminom pero kinalaunan umiinom na rin ako tapos na-enjoy ko na rin.” Angel Borda, from Don Alejandro Roces Sr. Science-Technology High School emphasizes that the relatability of the situations of the characters was especially helpful in this case. “Pero ‘yun po yung mali talaga. We have to break that mindset. Napansin ko po yung kay Miko and kay Jella na yung pinagdadaanan po nila sa buhay nila, sa personal life nila is yun po yung ineexplain po nun kung bakit sila may addiction sa drinking pero it’s not an excuse sa behavior na pinapakita nila. Yung pagiging iresponsable nila, yung kawalan nila ng respeto sa ibang tao, kumbaga hindi sila main character sa buhay na ito at hindi lang sila ang maapektuhan sa buhay na ginagawa nila.”
The American-based National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) has published research that has found that those who get into the habit of alcohol consumption earlier in life may suffer more from it than those who learn to drink at an appropriate age. It states that “youthful patterns of alcohol use can mark the start of a developmental pathway that may lead to abuse and dependence”, and that continued drinking may lead to physiological reactions, such as depression or anxiety disorders, triggering an even greater reliance on the substance to alleviate the symptoms of these disorders. That’s already discounting the immediate effects of alcohol on young minds, which could lead to poor decision-making, patterns of antisocial behavior, and impaired motor skills. Finally, there is also the detrimental effect of extensive alcohol exposure on developing vital organs such as the liver and brain.
Lofty goals and marked successes
During its initial rollout in the Philippines in 2021, Smashed was supported by 120 schools in 17 regions and managed to get up in front of an audience of 17,700 young people. With the Department of Education and other academic institutions serving as partners, Smashed Online was able to equip educators and young leaders with workshops and training.
For 2023, the program’s goal is to be able to get its message through to over 25,000 students, partnering with schools and educators all over the Philippines. It is the program’s target to reach 300,000 Filipino youths by 2030 by working in close collaboration with the Department of Education.
“We are proud to support an important program to address the dangers associated with underage drinking like Smashed in the Philippines. This is part of our Society 2030: Spirit of Progress at Diageo, and we are confident that we can make a positive impact with the Filipino youths in making informed choices about alcohol and combat alcohol related harm for generations to come”, comments Shanahan Chua, Corporate Relations Director of Diageo Philippines.
According to the Philippines’ Smashed Online project manager, Gold Villar-Lim, in 2022, 93% of the total participants surveyed reported a marked attitudinal change. “Overall, the project is not only a big step in advocating for alcohol education and youth empowerment, but also in promoting applied theater and drama-in-education as effective teaching tools in the Philippines,” says Villar-Lim.
It isn’t just about making a connection with the participants, either. Smashed tries to melt the resistance that most children seem to have towards reaching out to adults to help in case they find themselves in a sticky spot due to alcohol, especially their parents. And it seems that the message is getting through.
Even educators are impressed. “Highly recommended talaga ang Smashed PH kasi na-to-touch niya yung mga buhay at talagang nangyayari araw araw sa mga mag-aaral, says Russel Radaza, a department head at President Sergio Osmeña High School Manila. “Mas maganda kung mas maraming schools ang ma-rereach out ng Smashed PH para sila ay mag-enjoy at mas matuto about alcoholic beverages.”
This sentiment is echoed by Jennifer Rances, a teacher at Sipocot National High School in Camarines Sur. Sa akin naman, talagang napakalaking tulong po nito na sa mga young learners lalo na ngayon iba na ang gusto nilang gawin hindi na sila nakafocus,” she says, emphasizing the lack of connection between a child’s attention span and traditional methods of education. She goes on to stress that “with these kinds of projects, talagang magiging focus nila ay […] ano ba talaga yung nangyayari sa society at ano ba talaga yung realidad. With this kind of project that Smashed Ph has, talagang sa tingin ko sobrang positive ako na madedevelop ang mga bata rito. Lahat madedevelop including their skills, pati yung mga talents nila at yung focus din even leadership skills.”
Could this change in the approach to the conversation create lasting effects in the way we approach underage drinking? Will it create deliberate and productive conversations between children at risk and the adults who are in the position to guide them? Evidence points to the possibility of both, and although only time will tell, Smashed Ph is definitely taking the necessary steps in the right direction.
Smashed is a global theater education program led by Collingwood Learning and supported by Diageo. Smashed was developed in collaboration with young people and educates students on the dangers of underage drinking and empowers them to make choices to keep themselves and others safe from harm.
Since Smashed first began touring schools back in 2004, over 1 million young people have now taken part in the program and there have been more than 4,000 performances in over 30 countries.
In 2019-2020, the program appeared in 700 schools globally, in 15 languages across 19 countries, reaching 181,013 students.